I finished reading History and Obstinacy yesterday. Since I read it in bits in pieces on the bus during term time, I didn’t give it the close reading it deserves. So I am going to re-read it and post reflections on it as I do. I’ll start with the introduction.
I found the introduction very interesting, but unusual for several reasons. I think it does a good job of discussing H&O in comparison to N&K’s first work. It also provides an enticing discussion of their more recent work on politics, which I hope will be translated. Yet, despite a good discussion of Freud, a surprising amount of the introduction focuses on contextualizing N&K’s work in comparison to canonical literary and theoretical works. While this is certainly interesting, it seemed odd that there is a more in depth discussion of Deleuze than the figure that Fore acknowledges to be N&K’s mentor: Theodor W. Adorno. Moreover, although Fore makes an interesting claim that N&K are from the generation of ’58 rather than ’68, there is not really a discussion of N&K’s biography or their previous work. (Indeed since this claim is not substantiated it also brushes against the earlier contextualization of N&K’s first collaborative work as a product of ’68). In essence, and I imagine this will come as no surprise to readers of this blog, I found it odd that the introduction did not focus on contextualizing N&K and H&O in reference to Frankfurt School Critical Theory and its place in German history.
I think such a theoretical contextualization is important because as I see it H&O is largely concerned with developing a number of Adornian concepts. Since some of these concepts are Adorno’s most difficult, such as natural history, it seems to me that the reader would benefit from some attempt to summarize them. Unfortunately, the introduction does not do so. I’m also afraid it also makes some curious missteps that occlude the influence of Adorno.
I’m far from a fluent German reader, yet I found it surprising that there was not discussion of how Eigensinn (translated as obstinacy but also willfullness, self-will, and autonomy) could be said to draw on Adorno’s notion of autonomy and heteronomy.
I also found it odd that the introduction draws parallels between Engels’ Dialectics of Nature and H&O, rather than Benjamin and Adorno’s notion of natural history. Surely the former, unlike the latter, does not entail a critical account of how the muck of ages have solidified damaged life under the pernicious rule of second nature.
Finally, and this is entirely my hobby horse, I would have loved a discussion of how the interpretation of Marx that influenced figures from the ’58 generation fit into their work. There are several interesting quotes about Marx’s anthropology and allusions to Capital (unfortunately, the famous quote about the bees and labour is credited to the Grundrisse), but no discussion of N&K’s interpretation of Marxian categories nor a contextualization of this interpretation alongside the work of Adorno and Alfred Schmidt. (Oddly Balibar is used to interpret Marx). This is surprising, for not only have two of the reviews of H&O had a field day criticizing N&K’s sloppy Marxology, but also because these interpretations are an essential aspect of H&O.
This brings us to how I see H&O and my primary interest in it. Like the other great Frankfurt theorist of ’58, Alfred Schmidt, I see N&K’s Marxism as concerned with aligning Marx with Adorno’s theory of natural history. Although the interpretation of these categories brushes against the rigorous interpretation of the New Reading developed by the generation of ’68, it seems to me it is also potentially an important compliment. For whilst the former lead to great strides in understanding Capital, I think H&O points to the importance of supplementing this New Reading of value with an account of “Capitalism within us” and of historical-specificity with how human history, as one of subjugation and domination, has formed humanity. It is these areas and more that my forthcoming notes will focus on.